Town leaders have informally turned down the first offer on Zebulon’s former town hall, despite the prospective buyers’ plans to use the space for a purpose several commissioners have indicated they support.
The offer of $90,000 was made March 3 by Mark Cronk, Blake Lewis, Glenn Lewis and Dallas Pearce, who wanted to turn the location into an arts center affiliated with the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County. The town is asking $145,000 for the property, located at 100 N. Arendell Avenue.
Town Manager Rick Hardin said discussions with each commissioner showed they were unanimously opposed to selling the property at the proposed price. Hardin said the town board is scheduled to make an official response to the offer at its April 7 meeting.
Commissioner Curtis Strickland, who is in favor of bringing an arts center to town, said his decision was strictly business.
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“As far as hearing what we’ve been offered, for a downtown corner lot, really I think it’s a great (asking) price we’ve got for that building.”
Pearce, a local real estate agent, said the offer was made lower than the asking price to cancel out the estimated $50,000 cost of getting the property ready to house an arts center.
“We didn’t want to do something halfway,” Pearce said. “We designed it to where we would hire a professional architect to come in and upfit it, not only to meet the needs of the (United) Arts Council but to go beyond that and make it a state-of-the-art arts center.”
The town has decreased the asking price on the property twice since town offices relocated to the Zebulon Municipal Complex in 2009.
The first price of $259,000 was reduced to $218,750 as the town switched real estate agencies from Parrish Realty to NAI Carolantic in June 2012. In February, 2013, commissioners took the advice of their listing agent to lower the price again to current $145,000 mark, representing a cut of 34 percent.
Since the UAC has approved the location, which is on the corner of a prominent intersection in a downtown riddled with vacant buildings, Pearce expected the town to jump at the offer.
“We made a very reasonable offer and the investors are still thinking that was pretty doggone good for what we’re trying to do for the town,” he said. “I think the taxpayers in Zebulon need to know what their elected representatives did not do, and what it would have done had they sold the building to us and the arts center came to pass.”
Hoping for a response
Pearce said he and fellow investors are getting a feel for the public’s response to the rejected offer before taking any further action.
“If (an arts center) is popular enough for the public, we’ll go back out there and get another building or maybe the elected officials will say the taxpayers put enough pressure on them to go forward with it,” Pearce said. “Who knows where we might go to look, but we would really like to see the arts center in Zebulon.”
While running for office last fall, Commissioner Glenn York said there is a proven economic advantage for towns that work with the UAC. Pearce, whose background is in economics, believes an arts center would spur traffic and business that would subsequently be the solution to revitalizing downtown Zebulon.
“That anchor tenant has to be somebody outside of the box that excites people to be there,” he said. “The arts center would do that. If you go look at the towns around here that have successfully revitalized their downtowns, the common denominator is the combination of commerce and the arts.”
Change of stance
The prospect of an arts center in downtown led commissioners to bend on one of their longtime policies last year.
The town board made it clear more than once since 2009 it did not want to lease its former downtown office spaces. Commissioners turned down several requests to lease the properties because they promised voters they would sell them and use the proceeds toward paying off the loan on the new facilities.
But last June the board approved a plan to lease the old town hall building to a local group started by Pearce that is working to form an arts center. The approval was dependent upon conditions that the group become a non-profit entity and prove it had finances in place for the UAC’s preferred trial run period of two years.
Those plans changed when the four investors realized significant funding would still be needed to cover the cost of upfitting the property, and decided purchasing the 4,375-square-foot building would simplify the endeavor.